Trauma recovery

The Utter Simplicity of Saving Lives

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Grains, millions of grains of sand rubbing the souls of my feet. Making them wiggle while sending tingling sensations up my heels into ankles, calves. Grit mixing with water and sun’s warmth. As if I walk barefoot on a beach. In a day full of relaxation.

But I am not on a beach. I am in bed. In a house surrounded by night. Stars peeking out of February’s winter sky. Lights off. Feet covered in warm socks. Body snuggled into down comforter. Eyes flickering shut. Searching for sleep.

My feet however are somewhere else. As if they are no longer attached to my body. Disconnected. Separated. Most of me in Iowa. My feet, at a beach.

Not just any beach. Three years and six months after watching life as we knew it disappear, my feet return. Return to the rippling water. Current tugging from every direction. Sand squishing beneath feet. Eyes watching the unthinkable.

Even after almost weekly therapy sessions since that day. Even after understanding I suffered from PTSD for two plus years. Even after working with trauma recovery modalities of EMDR, somatic movement therapy along with added sessions of Tai Chi, Sensory Experiencing, and a little bit of tapping. Even after reading book after book about trauma recovery. Even after so much healing work my feet tell me they never left the beach.

Ask for another EMDR session. Eyes following therapist’s finger. Slowing moving back and forth in front of my face. Me, talking about my feet. Feet holding part of the story. Memories from the Wisconsin River sweeping my husband away and into his death. The same river trying so very hard to sweep our two sons away as well. A day, I stood and watched. Lone witness to our story.

Or so I thought. My feet making an addition to the story. About my body in the water that day. Reveal it during EMDR. Slowly. Left to right and right to left. Seemingly safe because I wore a life vest. Seemingly safe because I was near other people in the water.

But my feet hold truth. Of how close I was to being swept away as well. That the safety measure strapped across my chest may not have saved me. Because the current pulled under with a mighty strength. Not just downstream. But down into. And the sand below my feet wanted to crumble away. Leaving me without footing.

And I gasp. Now. In horror. Three years and six months later. Because all I remembered of this moment was thinking I could go no further toward the spot I last saw Tony. That to do so would mean my death. My death. And something inside me turned toward shore and walked out of the water. Just like our two sons had done mere moments before.

My PTSD was not only from witnessing death take life in secondary trauma. My body knew death threatened my life. In one pull under or collapse of sand beneath my feet. That’s why ancient body wisdom pushed me from danger. Back toward safety. In a haze. In what felt like slow motion. But in what was really a form of fleeing danger. On adrenaline’s fuel.

Ancient energy moving me on a day when the utter simplicity of saving our lives could have been a sign reading “Danger! NO Swimming Allowed.” Along with a beach full of people following sign’s order. One governmental mandate posted for safety of all people followed by compliance. Complying because the common good is important. Because each of us is part of the common. We all want good for ourselves and loved ones. And if we are practicing people of faith, we humbly want good for all others. Seems to me wanting good for others is wanting good for God. A form of love.

So I ask the people of that day and the state and local governments of Wisconsin overseeing the Wisconsin River again and again, “Why was your fun more important than our lives?”

Answer received. Additional deaths each year. Death after death.

Now three years and nine months later my sons and me are once again surrounded by people and governments who value their actions more than our lives. Not on a beach. But in a global pandemic. This time I ask the people who do not wear masks in the grocery store, or refuse to stand six feet apart, or who demand the freedom for a haircut, or refuse to govern for all and not just a few, “What happened to you? What happened to you causing your deep pain? Making your needs more important than our lives?

These behaviors, these unhumble, harmful behaviors of others, are old wounds. Behaviors revealing to the world old wounds still festering. Oozing with the yellows and greens of infection. Producing the smells of rot, gangrene, death. Unhealed wounds wounding all others. Strangers. Loved ones. Friends. Family.

Jesus asked his disciples to keep his commandments. (1) His commandments of loving others. (2) We can’t love well unless we begin and continue healing. Not alone. But with clinically trained professionals. Doing healing’s work week in and week out. Therapy session after therapy session. While also sitting with spiritual directors, chaplains, or pastors. Asking the big questions hanging on our hearts. As well as incorporating healing methods into our days such as mindfulness techniques, centering prayer, or journaling.

Healing takes work. Lots of work. Takes a team of healers. Takes faith in the process and in the healers and in ourselves. (3) But it is lifesaving. For me. For you. For everyone who does not receive the tragic results of our unhealed pain.

No-swimming signs on dangerous beaches and wearing masks in stores, these are easy actions saving lives. But healing old wounds. Not simple at all. Really hard and long work. And when it is not done, then the simple ways of saving lives are pushed aside, minimized. Because pain needs a lot of space to perpetuate sorrow into total strangers. Making saving lives never so simple.

I think that’s what Jesus knew. Tried to teach his disciples. Tries to continually teach us. To have faith in our ability to heal. Because healing helps us rejoin our communities so that we can love God, ourselves, and others, known and unknown to us. (4) Love looking like daily simple actions. Actions saving lives.

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[1] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 NRSV
[2] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV
[3] He [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”” Mark 5:34 NRSV
[4]  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12: 30-31 NRSV

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1 thought on “The Utter Simplicity of Saving Lives”

  1. Thank you Jennifer for sharing your pain and recovery. Such a tragedy.
    God was with you and your boys then, and is with you now. Amen.

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